Coronavirus Israel Live: Education Ministry Releases Plan for Outdoor Learning

Ahead of school debate, gov't report warns kids could be superspreaders ■ Coronavirus czar announces free testing without referral ■ Ultra-orthodox locales removed from list of restricted areas

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Pedestrians wearing masks walk in Netanyahu, October 21, 2020.
Pedestrians wearing masks walk in Netanyahu, October 21, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
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Haaretz

Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are dealing with a renewed coronavirus outbreak, leading to proposals and measures intended to curb its spread and mitigate the economic ramifications of the crisis by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Israel currently has 17,590 active cases; 2,319 people have died. In the West Bank, there are 5,238 active cases and 453 deaths, and in Gaza 1,921 active cases and 28 deaths.

LIVE UPDATES

2:50 P.M. Education and Health Ministries permit schools to hold outdoor activities 

The Health Ministry and Education Ministry announced that they have amended the regulations prohibiting educational activities in open areas.

In light of this, schools will be able to carry out outdoor activities in permanent groups of up to nine students, with no turnover of staff or students between groups. Students must wear masks at all times, except for eating, drinking and sports activities.

Students and staff will eat their meals separately, and the group will keep a distance of two meters apart at all times. The distance between the different  groups will not be less than 100 meters.

The new regulations will be submitted to the government for approval on Sunday. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

11:15 A.M. Bnei Brak's status changed from 'red' to 'yellow'

Authorities have changed the city of Bnei Brak's rating from red to yellow in the so-called traffic light plan, which rates towns red, yellow, or green based on their coronavirus outbreak. According to a statement from the city, recent weeks have seen "a dramatic drop of 90 percent" in the incidence of disease in Bnei Brak, with 413 new cases being diagnosed over the past week – compared to 4,180 two weeks ago. The city also said it was the most-tested city, with 70% of residents having been tested for the virus. (Haaretz)

8:55 A.M. Police disperse wedding with 300 guests

Police said Friday that they had dispersed a wedding with about 300 guests, held in violation of coronavirus restrictions, on Thursday night. Acccording to police, the event took place at a farm in Ben Shemen Forest and included food tables, a band, and a dance party, with some guests failing to wear masks or social distance. One guest damaged a police car and broke one of its windows, and was arrested and brought in for questioning, police said. (Haaretz)

THURSDAY

10:00 P.M. Israel registers 831 new cases 

According to Health Ministry data, 831 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Thursday. The total death toll stands at 2,319, after 28 people died on Thursday. The number of patients in intensive care continues to decline. 

On Thursday, 22,133 tests were taken across Israel. The rate of positives is 2.7 percent. 

3:00 P.M. Hospitals begin closing, scaling back coronavirus wards as cases drop

Hospitals have begun closing and scaling back coronavirus wards following the decrease in confirmed cases, in a step that will allow them to reopen internal medicine wards ahead of the winter.  However, the hospitals, like the Health Ministry, have not come out with official declarations about closing wards, both in order to avoid making overly hasty announcements and because the number of hospitalized cases is still considerable.

As of Thursday morning, there were 1,602 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the country, including 581 in serious condition. There were 231 people on ventilators. By comparison, in late September, as a lockdown was imposed, there were nearly 1,500 hospitalized cases and nearly 800 cases in serious condition. (Ido Efrati)

9:30 A.M. Coronavirus czar: Government should reach final decision on reopening schools by Sunday

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Ronni Gamzu, the official overseeing the country's coronavirus response, said Thursday that the government should make a final decision on reopening schools by Sunday and that a week later some grades will resume in-person classes. He also admitted, "Last time, we reopened in a less safe way than was required" and said that the reopening in September was planned in July when officials had less knowledge of the virus and thus thought the plan was sufficient. (Haaretz)

8:15 A.M. Health minister: Data permitting, schools can be reopened in 10 days

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday that schools can be reopened in 10 days, should the data allow it. He also said that weddings including up to 20 people were allowed, and that "I'm not willing to be an  who forbids weddings." Parties, however, will have to wait, he said. (Haaretz)

WEDNESDAY

10:05 P.M. Jerusalem to flout regulations to assist children at-risk

The Jerusalem municipality will carry out a program for at-risk children, despite government regulations barring such gatherings. The program will assist some 5,000 school children who need educational and psychological support and will take place in small capsules, led by city social workers, psychologists and volunteers.

The Ministry of Education has not permitted similar programs to take place in other cities, and yet according to a source familiar with the matter, the Jerusalem municipality intends to go ahead with the program without official approval from the ministry. (Or Kashti)

8:19 P.M. COVID cabinet decides against lifting further restrictions, will convene next week

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet decided on Wednesday not to further ease restrictions and to meet again next week to discuss further steps in accordance with updated morbidity data.

At the meeting, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz called on ministers to allow takeaways from all businesses from Thursdays, as well as permit small businesses, including high street shops, hairdressers and beauty salons, to resume their activities on Sunday, and facilitate the return of first to fourth-graders to school on November 1. 

"The Health Ministry must end the suffocating closure of businesses in Israel that has now lasted more than a month and a half," Katz said at the hearing.

In response, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein's office urged all government ministers to act "responsibly and professionally, and refrain from falling to populism."

"For the sake of public health and the Israeli economy, everyone should understand the lessons we learned from overly hasty exit from the first lockdown," said Edelstein, "among other things, so we don't have to go into a third lockdown, which would cause enormous damage to the economy. The duty of the Finance Ministry is to provide adequate compensation to all victims of the lockdown and not just pocket money." (Ido Efrati, Noa Landau)

2:32 P.M. Netanyahu halts coronavirus cabinet meeting so his ministers can vote against commission of inquiry into  submarine affair

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted the coronavirus cabinet meeting Wednesday morning so that Likud ministers could vote in the Knesset against opening a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the so-called submarine affair.

The affair centers around an agreement with Germany’s ThyssenKrupp to buy submarines and patrol boats; the latter would protect Israel’s natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean. At issue in these deals, worth 1.5 billion euros and 430 million euros, respectively, are the dealings between top Israeli officials and ThyssenKrupp’s representative in Israel. 

Senior IDF officers, public officials and a number of people close to Netanyahu are suspected of demanding and receiving bribes to advance the deals with ThyssenKrupp. (Noa Landau)

2:14 P.M. Netanyahu hails coronavirus lockdown success, warns of future restrictions

At the start of the coronavirus cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the success of the coronavirus lockdown. “Israel was in the first place in infection rates per capita in Europe, we introduced a lockdown and [the rates] went down quickly,” he said. Netanyahu went on the point to “other European countries, which did not impose a lockdown and did not impose severe restrictions,” now faced higher infection rates.

Netanyahu thanked citizens for their cooperation but said that as Israel begins to relax restrictions the country will need to “move from stage to stage gradually.” Adding that if infection rates rise the cabinet would be “forced to bring back some of the restrictions.” (Noa Landau)

1:30 P.M. Ramat Gan preschools to be closed on Fridays

The city of Ramat Gan has announced that its preschools, recently reopened, will be functioning between Sunday and Thursday each week, and not on Fridays. (Haaretz)

11:05 A.M. Coronavirus cabinet set to debate school reopenings today

The coronavirus cabinet is to decide on the next stage of reopening  on November 1: letting children in grades 1 to 4 return to school, or opening stores. 

The ministers will be debating a proposal to delay school openings by another two weeks beyond that date.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu has said the delay was necessary so that the education, health and finance ministries could coordinate their positions. (Haaretz)

10:45 A.M. Children could be superspreaders, Israeli report warns ahead of debate on reopening schools

Children are infected with the coronavirus no less than adults and can be so-called superspreaders – and as the majority of them are asymptomatic, many cases are not detected quickly enough for further infection to be avoided, according to a Health Ministry report released Wednesday. 

The report, which is an overview of the incidence of the virus among children since the beginning of the outbreak, noted that among cases of children whose source of infection was reported, 73.4 percent were infected by adults and 26.6 percent by other children, mostly of a similar age.

Children can also be superspreaders – people who infect at least another 10 people. Of the 350 superspreaders that have been identified through contact tracing, 17 were under the age of 17 – including seven who each infected 10 people, three who infected 12 each, and one child who infected 24 people.

The report further said that the percentage of positive tests among children since the beginning of the pandemic is higher than that among adults – eight percent among children and six percent among adults. "This proves that the incidence of disease is higher in children in comparison to adults," the report stated. (Ronny Linder)

TUESDAY

11:38 P.M. Number of serious patients keeps declining

The Health Ministry said Israel currently has 614 serious patients, a decline of 20 since Monday evening, while 15 more Israelis have died, bringing the country's COVID death toll to 2,278.

In addition, 1,286 people were diagnosed with the virus since Monday night. As of Tuesday night, 234 people are on ventilators, a decline of 12 since Monday night.

The ministry added that 41,757 coronavirus tests were conducted on Monday, and 33,206 on Tuesday. (Haaretz)

6:20 P.M. Ultra-orthodox locales removed from list of restricted areas

A ministerial committee approved a Health Ministry proposal to remove Bnei Brak, Elad, Beitar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit from the list of restricted areas amid a decline in the rate of infections.

Restrictions will also be lifted from the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mettersdorf, Ma'alot Dafna and Ramat Eshkol. Only the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo remains on the list of restricted areas, or "red" zones. (Ido Efrati)

5:20 P.M. Coronavirus czar announces free coronavirus testing without referrals

Prof. Roni Gamzu, said that it will soon be possible to be tested at local clinics without the need for a referral.

"We made a decision that free tests will be available throughout Israel, without the need for a referral," Gamzu said. "It will be done within Health Maintenance Organizations," he added. (Ido Efrati, Noa Landau)

5:00 P.M. Constitutional committee approves first phase of lockdown easing, requests reconsideration in one week

The Knesset's Constitutional Committee ratified the first exit phase of the lockdown, but shortened its validity by four days, to October 27.

It called on government to then revisit the plan to allow weddings, as well as the operation of bed and breakfasts, beauty and hair salons, athletes' training and complementary medicine providers. (Jonathan Lis)

1:45 P.M. Coronavirus czar to recommend end of lockdown for all but one 'red' areas

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu is expected to recommend the end of lockdown measures for all remaining 'red' areas, with the exception of the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in Jerusalem. 

In light of the steady decline of infection rates, Gamzu has openly advocated for the lifting of restrictions on these areas, but has urged the population to keep following guidelines. 

The lockdown was eased nationally on Sunday, barring localities classified as 'red' under the traffic light system. (Ido Efrati)

12:00 P.M. Twice as many Israelis return to work than file for unemployment after economy reopens

Following the re-opening of the economy, the daily number of people returning to work is double the number of those registering for unemployment, the Israeli Employment Service has reported Tuesday.

Between the last report on Monday and Tuesday morning, 5,915 Israelis returned to work, outstripping the 2,883 who registered for unemployment in the same period.

Since September 17, the day before the start of the second lockdown, 268,014 people registered with the Israeli Employment Service, with 231,869 of them on unpaid leave

There are currently 975,778 jobseekers registered with the Israeli Employment Service, of which 628,514 are on unpaid leave. (Sivan Klingbail

10:18 A.M. Education Ministry shirks responsibility for ultra-Orthodox school violations

The Education Ministry is not monitoring ultra-Orthodox institutions that violate coronavirus restrictions, claiming that it has no authority to enforce it. 

"Here and there there are violations, and it is being handled by the police," Aryeh Moore, head of the emergency department at the Education Ministry said. Adding that "the Education Ministry has no supervisory powers" over institutions that have opened in violation of restrictions. This is despite the fact that Israeli law has allowed the ministry to revoke budgets from such institutions since August if they break the rules.

On Sunday, some ultra-Orthodox elementary and middle schools reopened for tens of thousands of students despite lockdown regulations, which only allowed preschools to open. Israel's Justice Ministry has drafted a plan to strip funding from schools that reopen in violation of the emergency coronavirus regulations. (Aaron Rabinowitz and Shira Kadari-Ovadia)

9:00 A.M. Bnei Brak no longer a 'red' city, municipality says

The Bnei Brak municipality has announced that the city is no longer considered “red” in the “traffic light” system, meaning that its rate of coronavirus infection has declined. As of Tuesday morning, the city’s infection rate fell to 7.17 on the government’s coronavirus metric, and is now classified as bright orange. 

The lockdown was eased on Sunday, including the reopening of preschools and canceling movement restrictions, except for cities that have been designated as red according to the traffic light system.

Local authorities thanked residents for observing the guidelines, and encouraged them to continue to do so, and has submitted a request to lift the restrictions on the city. (Bar Peleg)

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